County and city police officers step up DUI patrols

Published on Wed, Aug 20, 2014
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Police forces throughout Whatcom and San Juan counties are intent on stopping and discouraging driving under the 

There were 1,270 people in Whatcom and San Juan counties charged with DUIs last year. “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” is an annual program focused on reducing that number. 

Participating police departments are sending out extra patrols from August 15 to Monday, September 1. 

Officers have received special training to keep an eye out for drivers impaired by drugs or alcohol. This year, with the passing of Initiative 502 and the opening of several retail marijuana stores around the county, officers are focusing specifically on marijuana offenses. 

“We want people to know that marijuana doubles the risk of a fatal car crash,” said Darrin Grondel, director of the traffic safety commission. Grondel emphasized that although recreational marijuana use is now legal for people 21 or older, it is still illegal to drive under the influence of pot. 

The program is an offshoot of the Target Zero project, a statewide initiative with the goal of reducing deaths and accidents from traffic injuries to zero by 2030. This will be accomplished through education and the enforcement of stricter traffic laws, according to Target Zero’s mission statement. 

David Wright, manager of the Target Zero program, said driving under the influence of marijuana can look very similar to driving while drunk.

“Drivers that are impaired will usually have difficulty staying in their own lane of traffic,” Wright said. “They may have difficulty maintaining a constant speed, or staying in their own lane when making a turn at an intersection. These are some of the things our officers will be looking for.”

Officers participating in the program have been given intensive training in spotting and responding to suspected DUIs. Currently, the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) program expands on the department’s standard DUI training by incorporating training in various types of drugs. However, the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program further expands on ARIDE’s lessons.

“The DRE is a very intense class,” Wright said. “It takes very dedicated officers and subjects them to a very intensive schooling to allow them to recognize and report on the various types of drugs, their effect on the body and how to classify
Police forces in Bellingham, Ferndale, Everson, Lynden and Western Washington University, in addition to Whatcom and San Juan county sheriff’s departments and the Washington State Patrol, will all be participating in the “Drive Sober” program. 

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